29/04/2003

Britons held hostage on Nigerian oil rigs

Hostage negotiations are under way in an attempt to secure the release of around 100 oil workers being held captive on four oil rigs located in the Niger delta.

The trapped workers, thought to include as many as 35 Britons and 20 Americans, have been held on the rigs in deteriorating conditions for around 10 days.

The foreign workers were trapped as local workers, apparently infuriated by the sacking of colleagues, took control of the oil production platforms off the Nigerian coast in what Nigerian sources described as a “wildcat action”.

Transocean Inc, the US firm which operates the rigs, has declined detailed comment on the nationality of the workers concerned, but the severity of the situation became apparent when it emerged that telephone conversations had taken place and emails had been exchanged between the hostages and their families.

One hostage on the rigs has described the poor conditions on the rig when he contacted a relative in the UK. Another expressed concerns that the seige may only be ended by a military assault on the rigs.

However, the occupation of oil facilities during industrial action and civil unrest is not a unique situation and negotiations are usually sufficient to resolve the situation peacefully. Many such incidents do not make the news as the companies concerned are keen to play down the impact.

However, the situation in Nigeria is particularly volatile following some civil unrest and allegations of electoral fraud following the country's recent presidential elections.

(SP)

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